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The Dolphins’ fifth tight end and most recent free-agent signing certainly looks the part at 6-4, 238 pounds. But Tuesday’s minicamp was Les Brown’s first organized football in more than six years.
Brown’s story has circulated quickly in the whirlwind 10 days he has experienced since signing a three-year deal with the Dolphins. Brown did not play college football. In fact, he had spent the past two years working in the accounting department at Huntsman Gay Global Capital, a private equity firm.
Brown might “look the part” physically, but his route to Dolphins minicamp is far from the norm.
Not many 24-year-olds have made as many life-altering decisions as Brown, and the first one came at the end of high school. A three-sport star in high school in Utah, Brown could have played Division I football, but he decided to stay close to home and play basketball at Westminster College, a private liberal arts college in Salt Lake City.
When Brown went to Westminster, he left behind a football career that saw him receive all-state honors at wide receiver.
“He was a playmaker,” said Braden Brown, Les’ brother, who is a senior right tackle at Brigham Young. “He was one of those guys where you throw it up, he’d go up and get it and make a spectacular play.”
“In high school, it was, ‘Let Brown run deep and quarterback, you throw it up as high and as far as you can. We’ll make this cornerback look silly because Les is going to jump up and catch it over him,’ " Les Brown told PFW in a phone interview last Friday before heading to minicamp.
But football was on the backburner. Les said that he didn’t even play intramural football at Westminster, just some periodic flag football to train for basketball. His last game on the gridiron came in his senior year of high school in the fall of 2005.
At Westminster, Brown, who was an academic All-American, was a starter as a junior, and then got an internship with Huntsman Gay Global Capital. It was time for another big decision for Brown, who decided to leave school and an opportunity to play basketball as a senior behind to work full time.
“It was one of the toughest decisions of my life,” Brown said. “I knew I wasn’t going to the NBA. It would have been nice to take part in my senior year and enjoy the experiences of being a leader and possibly a captain and playing my final season. I always envisioned myself as being a bigwig business man at some point in my life. This was an opportunity to springboard that part of my life.
“I decided it’s time to make a big-boy decision and hang up the sneakers and move on with my life, move on with my financial, business career. I’m happy with the decisions that I’ve made and they’ve molded me into the person and athlete that I am today.”
The all-state wideout and three-sport high school star who played college basketball was firmly entrenched in the financial world. He didn’t stop working out, though.
“I got into pretty good shape when I was out in Florida (at the firm's office in West Palm Beach). My regimen was work, then at night I’d go to the gym. It was a “want to look good on the beach” type workout,” Brown joked.
With athletics on hold, Brown said he changed his diet and stopped eating fast food. He went to the gym five nights a week. “I didn’t do a lot of cardio stuff but was throwing the iron around, at least trying to look good.”
Brown reached another crossroads, though, and wanted to settle unfinished business at Westminster. He decided to leave Huntsman Gay and return to school to get his degree.
The summer before Brown returned to school, he was in Arizona with his brother Braden and met Chad Ikei, a personal trainer. Ikei, who was talking with Braden about training, looked at Les and said, “Who are you? Do you play football?”
“Les said, ‘I’m kind of a has-been, now I’m working,’" Braden recalled to PFW. “Chad said to him, ‘forget that. You can work the rest of your life. Come work out with me.’"
The seed was planted, and coincidentally, it was a Dolphins game that helped push Les to start training. Braden attended the Eagles at Dolphins game last December during BYU’s bye week and had passes to stand on the sideline.
“I was watching the guys warm up and run routes. I texted Les and said, ‘you should be out here playing with these guys. You are just as athletic. You can play with these dudes,’" Braden said. “Les said that sparked his motivation to go train with Chad.”
And with the motivation from his brother, Les reached yet another important decision to make. He already had enrolled in school to finish his degree, but he chose to again leave school in order to head to Hawaii to train with Ikei.
“I had this opportunity to say 'time out, let’s try this sports thing again.' Having Chad be so persistent wanting to work with me, and my brother being very supportive helped,” Brown said. “The quote that will always ring in my mind (from Braden) was, ‘Les, if you can’t play in the NFL, then that’s a travesty.’ “
It wasn’t easy in Hawaii for Les, who hadn’t worked out most of the fall. But after three months with Ikei, who also has trained Cardinals S Adrian Wilson, a five-time Pro Bowler, Les had “transformed into an absolute beast,” as Braden described it. Brown was suddenly on the path to get noticed by scouts and get a chance to make it to the NFL.
Twelve days before Brigham Young’s pro day (Braden asked BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall if Les, who is from the area, could participate), Brown caught his cleat in the turf at a regional Combine. “I rolled it over pretty good and popped it. It was a little scary at the time,” he said.
Brown kept his ankle injury quiet, even though the ankle had grown “three times the size” of his other one.
“I’m not in the business of making excuses. I just figured I’ll do the best with what I’ve got,” Brown said. “When I was at the pro day, with the adrenaline and the excitement and seeing all the scouts there, it was an afterthought.”
Brown ran a time of 4.43 seconds in the 40-yard dash and had a 39-inch vertical jump. He maxed out at 365 pounds on the bench press. For some perspective, Brown’s 40-time and vertical jump would have been the best among all tight ends at the NFL Scouting Combine.
“It almost felt like a dream,” Brown said about the aftermath of the pro day, when scouts “swarmed” him to get more information. “I tried to stay even-keeled and level-headed.”
Though, not every scout was convinced that Brown was worth a tryout.
“I’m too old for this crap. I don’t care if he’s an athlete, he’s not a football player,” one scout said, according to Brown’s agent Mike Ballard. But the Dolphins showed enough interest to bring Brown to Miami for a tryout.
“The whole front office basically shut down their draft meeting to watch Les because he was doing so well. That conveyed they were very interested,” Ballard said.
Brown signed a three-year contract with the Dolphins and reported to minicamp this week.
“You can just tell when someone’s interested in you, when they care about you,” Brown said about his decision to sign with the Dolphins. ‘The feel that I got, I genuinely felt wanted.” Brown added that he got along very well with Dolphins TE coach Dan Campbell.
Brown will have to fight to make the final roster. The Dolphins have two tight ends who are locks to make the final roster in Anthony Fasano and Charles Clay, and two others that Brown will compete with — Jeron Mastrud and Will Yeatman. New head coach Joe Philbin had five tight ends on the Packers’ roster last season, and the offensive staff clearly liked Brown’s athleticism and catching abilities and what he potentiaily could bring to an offense looking for more playmakers.
“The things that I feel I bring to the table are my speed, athleticism, I jump very well and I catch the ball with my hands. I feel like I’ve been blessed with good hands and natural ability when it comes to catching the ball and making plays,” Brown explained.
The intelligent, polite Brown made it clear, though, that he can get after it in the trenches if he needs to do so.
“I’m definitely not soft. I have a mean streak,” he said. “When I step in that line, on the basketball court or football field, I flip my switch. The person sitting across from me is not my friend.”
All his skills are being tested right now in Miami in his first organized football in years. Brown said via email that his first day of minicamp, “was definitely a grind physically and mentally, but it felt awesome to get back on the field and compete.”
The athleticism, bloodlines, work ethic and intellect are there for Brown to succeed, but it will take him time to get acclimated to the NFL game. Brown said his immediate goal is to make the team, but he has bigger aspirations.
“My ultimate goal is to be an impact player in this league and help the Miami Dolphins win football games,” he said. “I’m not going to just settle for making the roster and being the third or fourth tight end. At the end of the day, I want to be on the field making plays. I’m going to have to earn every bit of that.”
Luckily for Brown, at this juncture, he doesn’t have any more life-altering decisions heading his way. His unique route to this point has him with the Dolphins for the time being, but making the 53-man roster will be a challenge. Brown isn’t short of things to fall back on if he can’t make an active roster, but he is not letting that get in the way of his focus.
“I’m 150 percent in on this. I’m going to chase the dream until it’s not possible for me to chase it anymore,” he said. “I’ve got other options, but right now, this is the only thing on my mind. I know I’ve got my work cut out for me. These guys have worked very hard their entire lives. I know that I’ve got a lot of work to do to earn the respect of my coaches and fellow teammates. I’m excited for the opportunity.”